Tennessee to Tanzania: An Mzungu Adventure

Who: Brian Christie
Age: 23
What: Volunteering at HIV Clinic in Tanzania

Daniel Joseph, an avid BIY reader, sent us this story a little while back. It is a great thing when recent college graduates take the time after graduation to do something good rather than jumping straight into corporate life. It benefits both them as individuals and many in need of help. This is the story of one young man doing just that. Brian Christie is a 2007 graduate of Dartmouth College from Nashville, TN, volunteering at an HIV Clinic in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for most of this year. He is blogging about the experience here. His first three posts from July are below:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

First Post
Hey.

My name is Brian and this is my blog. I left this July to work for a pediatric AIDS clinic in downtown Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Moving from suburban USA to sub-Saharan Africa, from the ups and downs of America to the hilarity and tragedy that is the third world, there’s a lot going on over here.

I want to use this space as a spot to tell you about where I am: the beautiful places I keep going, the crazy people I keep meeting, the horrible circumstances that seem to constantly engulf so many peoples lives. Although I’ve just gotten here, this experience has already taught me so much, and promises so much more. I hope that, in the few reflections I manage to get in here, I might share something with you.

And if you’re reading this, feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Where We Live

Theres 2 1/2 of us who live together. Paul and I stay together, and Ben is here about 1/2 the time. Paul is one of my best friends from high-school; he just graduated from Penn. He’s staying here with me through April. Ben is a rising senior at Dartmouth and is here for a month longer. He spends most of his time working at the school that I’ll tell you about later.

So when Paul and I got here, Ben had already cased the joint out and found a couple good places for us to stay. We wanted to use the internet at home (so we could apply to med school) which meant we settled on the first place we came to. Its called Lamada and its hilarious.

Lamada is a hotel with apartments. What that means is we basically live in a glorified hotel room all the time. If you see a picture of the place, or walk around, it looks awesome. But as soon as you spend more than 15 min here, you start to notice things. Nothing works. As I’m currently typing this, there are 2 guys flipping the power on and off and messing with switches cause 3 of the lights in the main room don’t work and no one knows why. The main overhead light stays on all the time cause they forgot to put a switch in for it. Other funny shit includes– no door handles, a sink fixture with no pipes, and bathroom sink in the kitchen.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. This place is 1000x what we expected coming here, so its more entertaining than enraging. People come in all the time to fix something, tell us theyre going to get a wrench or a cord, and then never come back.

That brings me to the staff. We’re not actually sure who runs the place or is in charge, we only know the people we see every day. We’ve got:

Stephen: Receptionist, first guy we met. Probably about 20, speaks pretty good English. If we ever ask him about anything though, he just “HAHAHA!!!”s at us until we finally go away.

Fake Manager: We don’t actually know his name, we just know that he’s the main guy we talk to, that he acts like the manager, and that he’s not. When we asked him why the internet goes out all the time he shrugged his shoulders and set “Its a 3rd world country!”

Patrick/Joseph/3 other guys: The technicians. Always in to fix the internet and what not, but they have no actual expertise in the area. The just fiddle around on our computers til they get bored and then leave.

Mr. Martin: No idea what he does. Not even actually sure he works here, he just talks to us a lot. Unsure of his real name, except that the first name he introduced himself as “Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin Luther King! Hahahahahaha!!!!”

Terry: Receptionist. Shes probably about 20 years old and cares less about her job than the people at the DMV. They have some rule here that theres 24hr reception service, which means that she has night shifts a lot. She gets sheets and just lays out on the floor and goes to sleep.

So thats our apt. All in all, its a good time and a lot of fun. As much as we might want to get angry about the total lack of any work getting done here, people joke around about it so much that its hard to get mad.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Where I work, Part I
So I work at a couple places. The first one, the main one, is called the Dartmouth Pediatric Program. Its a pediatric HIV clinic in downtown Dar, about 200m from the ocean. Its a collaboration between Dartmouth and the MUCHS, the Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences. I work there with about 8 other people. There are 2 doctors, Dr. File and Dr. Jema, both new doctors a couple years out of Muhimbili, the premier teaching hospital in Tanzania. File (pronounced “fee-lay”) is a really warmhearted woman, who loves to laugh and who knows her stuff. Jema is much the same way– they speak pretty perfect English, and use it to give me a hard time (all in good fun), especially about the fact that I suck at Swahili.

Speaking of Swahili, damn. All the native speakers here are like “Its an easy language!” or “You’ll be speaking in no time!” F that. This language has zero indo-european or romantic roots, so every word is straight memorization. Sure, the verb forms are pretty easy and straightforward, but that doesnt help much if you cant remember verb youre looking for is. As you can tell, its not coming too easily for me.

So back to the office. We’ve got our 2 counselors, Sister Janet and Sister Elimina. I havent gotten to know them very well yet, except that Elimina absolutely delights in all forms of humor that come at my expense. More on that later. Next is Etigala, who does most of the cleaning and other things (boiling water to drink in the morning, etc). Having a bit of a hard time to break through to her, seeing as she doesn’t speak much English.

The clinic is run by Dr. Helga Nuburi. She teaches at Muhimbili, among having her patients there and also being in charge here. Helga is a rock star. She’s super nice, gets right to the heart of what a problem might be, and just all around kicks-ass. She is only around once every couple days, which sucks, but when she is, things get done.

And I can’t forget Joyce. She’s our receptionist, and I share a room with her where my computer and desk are. She speaks pretty good English and, as I just learned from lending her my ipod, LOVES the Kings of Leon. Shes also the closest person in the clinic to my age, minus Margi, another intern. What that means, is that, because we share an office, everyone gives her tons of shit about the two of us. Constantly, people will speak really quickly in Swahlili to her and, even though I can’t catch a word of it, I can tell by her reactions and the way they keep glancing at me, that they’re giving us shit. Afterwards, as though I knew what they said word for word, she says “Sorry, they were joking!” Of course, the primary culprit for these acts are Elimina.

So those are the people I work with. Well, except Margi. Shes a rising sophmore at Dartmouth and has been here about a month longer than I have (I got here the 9th of July, I think). She works mainly in trying to connect DPP with other programs, and so is constantly exploring other NGOs and meeting new people. It seems like a pretty cool deal. She speaks a lot better Swahili than I do.

You might be wondering now, what do I do? Good question. Considering I have no medical education thus far, really, it would seem like an extremely specialized clinic (by Tanzanian standards) wouldnt be the best place for me. Well, I’m doing a couple things. The main one is helping with getting an online database running here. After getting everything online, I’m analzying it to try to help get kids on ARVs (anti-HIV drugs) faster, as right now the time between figuring out they have HIV and getting them on drugs is taking too long. Besides that, I’m doing alot of random things, like teaching the nurses how to use computer applications, designing a new broshure, and trying to learn how AIDS treatment works. Oh, and I’m the resident “my computer broke, come fix it” guy. So I’m about 33% awkward American, 33% medical student, and 33% IT guy.
Oh, and 1% total badass.

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~ by PJ on September 16, 2007.

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